KBS GK-12 BioEnergy SusTainability (BEST) Project: Using schoolyard research plots to grow ecological and energy literacies
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 has made increasing renewable bioenergy production a national mandate, escalating the need for improved public education of the science, engineering, and policy relating to biofuels production. Our Michigan State University (MSU) Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) GK-12 BioEnergy SusTainability (BEST) Project addresses the need for improved ecological literacy of biofuels production at the K-12 level. Since its inception in 2010, a network of 15 rural southwestern Michigan school districts consisting of 22 schools and 130 K-12 science educators have partnered with the BEST project to advance understanding of cutting-edge scientific research and inquiry, tied to ecological sustainability of new production systems for cellulosic bioenergy. Led by the teacher-inspired question, ‘Can we grow our fuel and our flowers and butterflies too?‘, over 300 experimental bioenergy plots were established across the K-12 school network. KBS faculty, staff, and graduate students collaborate with teachers on experimental design, research protocols, and curriculum development for these ‘BEST plots’. Annually, students in participating districts address sustainable biofuels hypotheses via plot protocols including soil quality, landscape features, plant and insect biodiversity, and biomass production -- all providing hands-on experiences while enhancing ecological and energy literacy.
Here we present an overview of the KBS GK-12 partnership and the BEST plot network, focusing on contributions made to enhancing biofuels-based ecological literacy and challenges encountered in a K-12 setting. MSU graduate student fellows are the primary facilitators of the BEST project, part of a national network of GK-12 sites funded by the National Science Foundation. Graduate fellows partner with science educators in individual districts and become active participants in science classrooms, fostering research experiences with the BEST plots and teaching current science informed by their own research. With topics ranging from bioenergy production to the spread of invasive species, fellows and teachers co-develop lessons to address curriculum requirements while carrying out relevant, inquiry-based science activities.
We will also highlight the use of two educational tools developed in our project, the schoolyard BEST plots and Data Nuggets, lesson templates designed to help students interpret quantitative information and make evidence-based claims. Through the framework of the BEST plots and fellow-derived “classroom ready” lesson plans, we aim to provide science educators with the resources to teach engaging lessons that meet current and future curriculum requirements, while advancing energy and ecological literacy.